I have been a sexually active teenager. As many of you know, it can be a hard life. Sneaking around, telling egregious lies to your parents, struggling to get access to contraceptives… I do not miss it.
However, despite the lies told by abstinence-only sex ed programs, many teens can and do have sex. So obviously, with that reality in mind, the best way to maximize pleasure and minimize problems is to equip ‘em with the info they need. Here’s my guide to having sex as a teen.
1. Get informed. Don’t rush into things without knowing what you’re doing. Here are some resources you’ll want to check out to fill your noggin with crucial sex info:
• Planned Parenthood’s website is full of unbiased, useful facts that your high school sex ed class may have glossed over or missed altogether. Check out the birth control page, as well as their pages on general sexuality and STIs – though, let’s face it, their whole website is gold.
• Violet Blue’s blog might be a bit advanced for teens, but she does have some great sex ed pages. Here are some of the most useful for the average teen: sex advice and techniques, fellatio, cunnilingus, kissing. (There are more in her sidebar.) These pages are full of articles, erotica, and safety information about the different kinds of sex you might be having or thinking about having.
• One of my personal sex ed super-sources when I was a teen was the Sex is Fun podcast. It approaches sex from a non-judgmental and pleasure-focused perspective, and is often quite entertaining. I suggest you start with the first 100 shows, as they cover the most basic topics. You can put ’em on your MP3 player or phone and listen while you walk to school or work out or whatever it is that you do, and no one will know that you’re learning about sex!
• Scarleteen is widely considered one of the best sources of sex info for teens, and I agree. Their website is soooo full of content that you could read it for hours at a time and still be fascinated. The “first time here” page is the perfect place to start. And they have a message board. Just trust me on this one: you need to check out Scarleteen.
• Reddit’s Sexxit community is a good place to ask any sex questions that you can’t find answers to elsewhere. It’s an adult-oriented community but teens do wander in from time to time, and are always treated with respect.
2. Get protection. Listen to me, younglings: you need to be using some form of protection when you become sexually active. It is a non-negotiable. Sorry, that’s how it is. Here’s what you need to know…
• Condoms are often given out for free at places like Planned Parenthood clinics, other local health or sexual health clinics, high school nurse’s offices (depending on your school’s politics), your doctor’s office (if you ask nicely), and so on.
• If you have the money and are brave enough (or can enlist a friend or partner who is brave enough), you can also just buy condoms at your local drugstore. Don’t get anything that has a fancy texture or cooling/warming lube – just get a box of basic condoms.
• If pregnancy is a possibility with the kind of sex you’re planning on having, you need to think about birth control. (Condoms are pretty effective on their own when used perfectly, but most people don’t use them perfectly, and some people like to use birth control too, just to be extra sure they won’t get pregnant.) This Planned Parenthood factsheet has all the info about the different types of birth control, both hormonal and not, including their efficacy rates, side effects, costs, and so on. Read up and make an informed decision.
• If your doctor won’t prescribe you birth control, or they need your parents’ consent and you don’t want to ask your parents, or your regular pharmacy’s BC prices are too steep, you can seek out a Planned Parenthood clinic in your area and ask them to hook you up. Their prices are typically better and they are good about anonymity.
• If you or your partner have had sex with someone else before, whether consensual or not, STIs are a possibility. You can get tested together (for a fee) at a Planned Parenthood clinic, or another sexual health clinic (if it has no age rules).
3. Communicate. It can be really hard to communicate about sex (what each of you wants in bed, what you absolutely don’t want to do, etc.), especially when you’ve never done it before and/or don’t have a proper model for what it should look like. Here are some good resources about that:
• Dr. Debby Herbenick wrote this article about best practices for sexual communication.
• This UC Davis guide is pretty awesome.
• Here is a random textbook chapter about communicating sexually.
• This zine, Learning Good Consent, teaches all about consent, which isn’t always as simple as “yes” or “no.” You should have a look even if you think you know what consent means and how to recognize it.
4. Find a place to do it. Some teens are lucky enough to have parents who don’t mind them having sex in the house – but then there are others who won’t even let you be in your room with your partner when the door’s closed! Here are some locations you could try:
• Do your parents or your partner’s parents ever go out of the house for an evening, a weekend, or a more extended trip? That might be a good time to have sex in the house. Just make sure you clean up after yourself.
• Do you have any friends with cool parents (or parents who are often out of the house) who might let you use their place from time to time?
• Does one of you have a car that you can have sex in, or can you borrow one? (Having sex in public is illegal, of course, but you may be able to find a secluded enough area. Attempt at your own risk!)
• Keeping the above warning in mind: there are other public places that are pseudo-private and might work. I once had sex inside a playground tube at night, for example. Just make sure you keep a lookout, and bring condoms!
• If your parents are cool with you closing the door but you don’t want them to know you’re having sex, you can get creative to make sure they don’t hear you. It can be hot to have to remain totally silent, like you’re keeping a sexy secret together. And it can be fun to explore the terrain of your bedroom to find the quietest possible surface to bang on. (I used to have a super squeaky bed so my partner and I always had to have sex on the floor to minimize noise!) Additionally, you could try the age-old trick of blasting loud music to cover up your sex sounds, though that might arouse suspicion!
5. Listen to your body and your partner, not your expectations. This is the advice I wish someone had given me when I first became sexually active! Here are some examples of what I mean:
• If you’ve ever watched porn before, you might have the idea that someone who’s really enjoying themselves sexually will make a lot of noise. The truth is, not everyone is noisy in bed. Sexy sounds might develop over time, but don’t expect your partner (or yourself) to bust out loud moans and shrieks right off the bat. If you’re not sure if they’re enjoying themselves, ask them instead of relying on unreliable signals.
• If a particular sexual act doesn’t feel that great to you, but you feel like you’re “supposed to” enjoy it, don’t pretend to enjoy it! Instead, have a talk with your partner about what the two of you could try to make it more enjoyable. Lube? A different speed or rhythm? More foreplay? Harder or softer touch? And if you find that no adjustments can make you like a particular act, remember that you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. If a sex act makes you uncomfortable or just feels bad, you don’t have to do it.
• If you’re having sex with someone who has a vagina, remember that clitoral stimulation is required for the majority of those folks to have an orgasm. Vaginal stimulation alone won’t do it in most cases. It’s easy to add clit stimulation: you or your partner can use fingers, or you can incorporate a small vibrator (some drugstores sell ’em alongside the condoms, if you want to give vibes a try – though don’t judge vibrators on those, because they’re not the best!).
• If your partner asks you whether or not you’re enjoying something they’re doing, try not to lie, even if the truth is kind of embarrassing. When you lie, you give your partner the wrong signals and you deny yourself the kind of sex you want, while also denying your partner the pleasure of making you feel good. Sexual honesty is important, and if you can get good at it early, you’ll be ahead of the game!
• If you’re feeling good and having fun, and your partner is too, then the sex you’re having is successful. Don’t worry too much about orgasms, duration, what sex is “supposed” to look or feel like, or any other peripheral concerns like that. Pleasure and fun should be your main goals; all the rest is extra.
• For more info on how real-life sex can be different from some people’s expectations, have a look through Make Love, Not Porn.
What do you wish someone had told you when you first became sexually active? Teens: what kind of information do you think people in your age group need more of, in order to have safe, fulfilling sex?